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The Crimson Campaign(The Powder Mage Trilogy)(8)

By:Brian McClellan

"You got lucky," Ricard said. "Admit it. He could have gone anywhere. You just looked in the Gurlish Quarter first."

Adamat shrugged. Investigative work depended more on luck than he cared to admit, but he'd never tell that to a client. "Any chance you found the record for the address I gave you yesterday?"

Ricard sifted through the papers on his desk. A moment later he handed Adamat back Vetas's card. It had a name and address written on it in pencil.

"Fell checked herself," Ricard said. "The warehouse was bought by a tailor  –  of all things  –  two years ago. There are no records to indicate it had been sold after the tailor bought it, which means it didn't fall into the hands of the union   . Must have been purchased privately. I'm sorry I couldn't do more to help."

"This is a start," Adamat said. He stood up and retrieved his hat and cane.

"You'll be taking SouSmith with you, won't you?" Ricard asked. "I don't want you going after this Vetas alone."

"SouSmith is still laid up," Adamat said. "He took some bloody damage from the Barbers."

Ricard grimaced. "He could go see Lady Parkeur."

Lady Parkeur was an eccentric middle-aged woman who lived with thousands of birds in an old church in High Talien. She always had feathers in her hair and smelled like a henhouse, but she was also the only Knacked in the city with the ability to heal wounds. She could knit together broken tissue and bone with the force of her will, and she cost more money than a Privileged healer.

"I spent every penny I had left to get myself healed by her after the beating I took from Charlemund," Adamat said. "I had to so I could go after my family."

"Fell!" Ricard yelled, making Adamat jump.

The woman appeared a moment later. "Mr. Tumblar?"

"Send a message to Lady Parkeur. Tell her I'm calling in that favor she owes me. There's a boxer, name of SouSmith, who needs mending. Tell her she needs to make a house call today."

"She doesn't do house calls," Fell said.

"She bloody well better for me. If she gives you any lip, remind her about that incident with the goat."

"Right away," Fell said.

"Incident with a goat?" Adamat said.

Ricard looked around. "Don't ask. I need a bloody drink."

"Ricard, you don't have to call in favors for me," Adamat said. He knew by experience how much Lady Parkeur cost for healing. The wait to see her was usually weeks. Adamat had only gotten in through a personal request from Field Marshal Tamas.

"Think nothing of it," Ricard said. "You've saved my ass more times than I can count." He recovered a bottle from behind a stack of books and drained the last finger of cloudy liquid from the bottle, then made a face. It was another moment before he ceased his search for more alcohol and dropped into his seat. "But don't think I won't ask you for more favors. This ‘First Minister' business is going to be a rough time."

"I'll do what I can."

"Good. Now go find out about Lord Whatshisname. I've been thinking of a really big gift for you and Faye for your anniversary next year. I'd prefer that you're both around to give it to."



Taniel cut the last silver button off his jacket and handed it to Kin. The stooped Gurlish examined the button closely in the light of a candle before sliding it into his pocket, just like he had all the others, and set a ball of mala on the table next to Taniel's hammock.

Despite the greed apparent on Kin's face, he had a worried look in his eyes.

"Don't go through it so fast. Savor. Taste. Enjoy," Kin said.

Taniel pushed a large piece of mala into his pipe. It lit instantly off the embers of the old mala, and he breathed in deep.

"You smoke more in a day than any man does in twenty," Kin said. He settled back on his haunches, watching Taniel smoke.

Taniel lifted his silver powder-mage button and rolled it between his fingers. "Must be the sorcery," he said. "Ever had a powder mage in here before?"

Kin shook his head.

"Never known a powder mage who smoked mala myself," Taniel said. "We all take the powder. Never need more to feel alive."

"Why the mala?" Kin busied himself sweeping the center of the den.

Taniel took a deep breath. "Powder doesn't make you forget."

"Ah. Forget. Every man takes mala to forget." Kin nodded knowingly.

Taniel stared at the ceiling of his niche, counting the hammock swings.

"Going to bed," Kin said, setting his broom in one corner.

"Wait," Taniel reached out with one hand, only to draw it back when he realized how pathetic he must look. "Give me enough to get through the night."

"Night?" Kin shook his head. "It's morning now. I work through the night. Most smokers come then."

"Give me enough for that, then."

Kin seemed to consider this, looking at the ball he just gave Taniel. From what he said, a ball like that should have lasted four or five days.

"Give me the powder keg, and I'll give you as much you can smoke for three weeks."

Taniel clenched the powder-keg pin in his fist. "No. What else?"

"I'll give you my daughter for the whole three weeks, too."

Taniel's stomach turned at the thought of the Gurlish mala man pimping his daughter to his customers.


"You like art?" Kin picked up the sketchbook and pencil Ka-poel had brought for Taniel.

"Put those down."

Kin dropped the sketchbook with a sigh. "You no have value. No money."

Taniel checked the pockets of his coat. Nothing. He ran his fingers over the silver embroidery.

"How much for my coat?"

Kin sniffed and touched the fabric. "Tiny bit."

"Give me that." Taniel set his mala pipe on the table and wriggled out of the coat, handing it over to Kin.

"You'll die of cold, and I won't pay for funeral."

"It's the middle of summer. Give me the damned mala."

Kin handed him a disappointingly small ball of the sticky black mala before disappearing up the stairs with Taniel's coat. Taniel heard the creak of feet on the floorboards above him, and Kin's voice speaking in Gurlish.

He settled back into his hammock and took a long draw at his mala pipe.

It was said that mala would make a man forget for hours at a time. Taniel tried to think back on the hours he'd lost. How long had he been down here? Days? Weeks? It didn't seem like a long time.

He took the pipe out of his mouth and examined it in the dim light of the den's candles. "Damned stuff doesn't work," he said to himself. He could still see Kresimir stepping out of that cloud after descending from the sky. A god! A real, live god. Taniel wondered what his childhood priest would have done had he known Taniel would one day grow up to shoot the god of the Nine.


Time hadn't stopped when the ensorcelled bullet went through Kresimir's eye, so it seemed the world could live without its god. But how many people had died trying to keep Kresimir from returning to the world? Hundreds of Adran. Friends. Allies. Thousands of Kez  –  hundreds by Taniel's own hand.

Every time he closed his eyes, he saw a new face. Sometimes it was a man or a woman he'd killed. Sometimes it was Tamas, or Vlora. And sometimes it was Ka-poel. Maybe it was the mala, but, by the pit, it made his heart beat faster when he saw the savage girl's face.

The steps creaked. Taniel looked up. Through the haze he could see Ka-poel come down the stairs. She crossed the room to his side, frowned at him.

"What?" he said.

She tugged on his shirt, then pinched her own long duster. Jacket. Damn. First thing she noticed.

He wrapped his hand around his ball of mala protectively.

Quicker than he could see, her hand darted forward and snatched the mala pipe from between his teeth.

"You little bitch," he hissed. "Give it back."

She danced away from his grasping hands to stand in the middle of the room, grinning.

"Ka-poel, bring me that pipe."

She shook her head.

His breathing came harder. He blinked against a sudden cloud in his vision, unable to tell if it was the mala or his own fury. After a moment of struggle, he sat up in the hammock.

"Give it back to me now." He swung his legs over the edge of the hammock, but when he tried to stand up, a wave of nausea struck him harder than it ever had when he opened his third eye to see into the Else. He sank back into the hammock, his heart hammering in his ears.

"Pit," he whispered, clutching at his temples. "I'm all sorts of buggered."

Ka-poel set the mala pipe on a stool on the other side of the room.

"Don't put that there," Taniel said, his own voice now weak. "Bring it to me."

She just shook her head and shrugged out of her duster. Before he could protest, she crossed to him and swept it up over his hammock and up to his shoulders.

He pushed it away. "You'll get cold," he said.

She pointed at him.

"It's summer, damn it. I'm fine."

She drew the duster back up over his chest.

Again, he gave it back to her. "I'm not a child."

Something seemed to light in her eyes at that. She pulled the duster off him and threw it to the ground.

"Pole, what the … " His next words were lost in his own strangled cry as she lifted one leg over the hammock and straddled him, sitting directly on his lap. His heart beat a little faster as she wiggled her ass to get comfortable. In the closeness of the niche, their faces were almost touching. "Pole … ," he said, suddenly breathless. The mala pipe, and even the little ball of mala in his hands, were suddenly forgotten.